Let me get something out of the way before I say anything else: I absolutely loved Final Fantasy X (FFX). The game's "sphere grid" ability system worked wonderfully, the story was engaging and full of spectacle, and it had some of the most memorable, most roundly-written characters I've had the pleasure of playing. If you ask me, it was one of Square's finest efforts since the 16-bit era, and debatably their best ever. Hearing that there would be a direct sequel, I could hardly wait. On top of that, being one of the fans of "oddball" games here at GameCritics.com, I figured the new mission-based play, Dressphere system and lighter tone would be right up my alley.
However, unlike Jason, I didn't actually enjoy the game very much, and the degree to which I disliked it was a bit shocking.
My thoughts on the Dressphere system and the game's refined mechanics are basically in line with the main review. Using and switching between the different outfits is quite simple and easy to grasp, yet it adds a pleasant level of complexity to the random encounters. The supercharged speed of battle initially blew my mind, and although I do think it's still a little too chaotic and quick for my taste, it becomes manageable sooner than you'd think. Different enough to feel fresh and new, yet familiar enough to avoid an awkward learning period, Final Fantasy X-2 (FFX-2) excels with regard to its core battle structure, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for it. Beyond this, I'm not too happy.
For me, defining characteristics of the best role-playing games (RPGs) are the story and characters. Some players may place a higher priority on the stat-based gameplay or the ability to dig deep into the search for hidden items and sidequests, but I don't enjoy those things for their own sake—I enjoy them only as complementary additions. I'm going to have to disagree with Jason and say that compared to the strong showing in FFX, FFX-2 just doesn't stack up.
Looking at the quality of the cast, I found lecherous screwball Brother to be an absolute riot, Yuna a little above average, and Rikku good for a chuckle here and there. But, new addition Paine was as dull as a pancake without syrup, coming complete with lifelessly flat voice acting to match. The rest of the game's inhabitants were complete washouts. I just didn't care about helping the girl who had a dream of riding a fluffy yellow chocobo, nor the sideshow huckster trying to earn a living by putting on a riverside performance, nor the semi-crippled leader of the Youth faction, nor any of the myriad people who are incapable of solving their own minor problems without your intervention.
The central story in the game was every bit as mediocre as the casting, and upon reaching the fifteen-hour mark, I had basically given up hope that it was ever going to grab my interest. Unfortunately, it was all too easy to maintain that same level of apathy until the end. I simply didn't find it very interesting to "explore" the different areas of the game's world for minigames and items because the bulk of the sidequests aren't relevant, and don't add much besides time spent on the clock. Giving me a wealth of minor diversions is all well and good as garnish atop a juicy quest, but even the greenest, freshest, tastiest, parsley in the world means nothing if the sirloin beside it lacks flavor.
I would have been all right with simply writing FFX-2 off as an unusually bold experiment and moving on, but Square played a little joke on me (and others, I'm sure) by making it terrifically easy to arrive at the game's final section underpowered and ill-equipped to actually complete it. Since the story wasn't keeping my attention, I ended up skipping many of the sidequests. In spite of this, the game remained an effortless cakewalk until the last area. I don't see what's accomplished by this eleventh-hour spike in difficulty besides some ill will towards the developers, but be aware that if you don't spend "enough" time noodling around Spira, you'll certainly pay for it later by falling into this little sand trap—the only way out being a few hours of straight leveling up.
It was difficult to come to a verdict on FFX-2. On the one hand, Square really took significant steps to avoid creating a carbon-copy sequel (which would have been all too easy to do), not to mention risking guaranteed sales with such a radical departure. On the other hand, they seem to have lost sight of what made FFX such a great experience to begin with. The fact is, as much as the analytical portions of my brain appreciated the lush graphics, unique Dressphere mechanic, and nontraditional approach to progression, the weak story and boring characters deal significant blows to the game as a whole.
Taken as the ultimate epilogue, fans of Final Fantasy's technical side will have a heyday with the wealth of tasks and secrets to keep them occupied, not to mention that going for 100% without the aid of an FAQ could be a near-endless pursuit. For RPG fans more interested in high adventure or fantastic tales told well, Final Fantasy X-2's lightweight return to Spira could be a little disappointing.